Archive for June, 2019

A Question Trump Needs to Answer

June 30, 2019

There is a prerequisite to reading this post, and that is the immediately preceding post, “The Great Successor.”

Contrary to the image Trump has built, Trump is a failed businessman, with bankruptcy after bankruptcy. Although American banks stopped lending to Trump he kept on purchasing new properties, typically with cash. From where did this money come? His son has answered from Russia. So taken at face value, the reason that Trump favors Putin and disavows the intelligence he receives from his intelligence community is obvious. He is owned by Putin and Russia.

Presumably, the tax and financial records he refuses to release would show this ugly reality, and that is the reason he is refusing to release them.

But the burden should be on Trump to prove his innocence. Show us where this money comes from. If you refuse, then it is fairly obvious that you are are severely compromised by your debts to Russia.

A preceding Healthy Memory Post, “House of Trump House of Putin” reviewed a book with this title by Craig Unser that explains how and why Trump became involved with the Russian Mafia. The book includes an annotated list of Fifty-nine of Trump’s Russian connections. The book is well-documented with extensive notes.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Great Successor

June 29, 2019

“The Great Successor” is the title of a new book by Anna Fifield. The subtitle is “The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.” Should you be wondering why you should be interested in Kim Jong Un, HM will first explain why he is interested and then will explain why you should be interested. HM is interested because he served in Korea in the military and has does much reading on Korea. His wife is Korean. And he knows much of the history of Korea. Korea is a peninsula that managed to maintain its integrity and culture in spite of many invasions by China and Japan. At the end of WW II the United States divided Korea in half: the south to be occupied by American soldiers and the North to be occupied by Soviet soldiers. The Soviets only entered the war after the Atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan. Nevertheless, they were given half of the peninsula, not only dividing a culture that had existed for over a thousand years, but effectively assigning the North Koreans to hell.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experiment. South Korea became a prosperous capitalist country selling automobiles and electronics to the rest of the world. North Korea, remained poor, but nevertheless developed nuclear weapons, long range missiles, and a frightening cyberwarfare capability. Actually the west has more to fear from North Korea’s cyberwar capabilities than it does of its nuclear and missile delivery systems.

If this isn’t enough to encourage you to continue reading, consider that Kim Jong Un is an individual for whom Trump has tremendous admiration and respect.

The Soviet Union installed Kim Il Sung as the dictator of North Korea, who eventually invaded South Korea and started the Korean war. He also started a brutal dictatorship that endures today. Kim Il Sung eventually died and his son Kim Jong Il succeeded him. He continued the brutal dictatorship. Kim Jung Un is the third in succession. To the best of HM’s belief, this is the first and only hereditary dictatorship. The actual lineage here is confusing. Although the sons were hereditary, there is no rule of succession. Different mothers, and younger sons were selected to get the best, most promising dictators.

Kim Jong Un differs from his father and his grandfather as he was educated in the west and has traveled extensively. To understand Kim Jong Un it helps to understand the Machiavellian principles by which he governs.

“He embodies the dictim laid out five centuries earlier by the Italian Nicolo Machiavelli in his book: that it is better to be feared than loved. In the first year of his reign, Kim Jong Un put his country, already the world’s most isolated, on lockdown. He had security along the river border with China reinforced. He had patrols stepped up. His efforts to thwart attempts to escape were much more draconian than his father’s.”

“Like his predecessors, he has managed to survive as a dictator by controlling an entire nation through a relatively tiny group of people. It was another rule expounded by Machiavelli: don’t worry about the general population; just be sure to enrich a small, elite group.”

Blaine Harden, a Korea expert who wrote the enthralling, true account of a Korean escaping to freedom in his book “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odysses from North Korea to Freedom in the West.” Here is the review he provided of Ms. Fifeld’s book. “The Great Successor shows how a pudgy young heir to tyranny—using fratricide, nuclear terror, crony capitalism, and strategic flattery of a vain American president—has become a sure-footed Machiavelli for the twenty-first century.”

Readers might have seen pictures of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Part of it looks something like Manhattan and has been nicknamed Pyonghattan. But only the most loyal Koreans are allowed to live there. Ninety % of North Koreans are dirt poor, trying to scrape out a living via individual capitalism who need to bribe officials to keep their illegal enterprises going. About 10% of North Koreans can be regarded as being relatively well off. And the top 0.1% are obscenely wealthy.

The North Koreans studied Donald Trump. They saw his narcissism as a point of entry. They knew he would be a sucker for a deal on nuclear arms. Of course, they initially insulted Trump and Trump responded in kind. But the goal was to set up a meeting with the President of the United States. Never before had a North Korean leader met directly with a President of the United States. Typically, there are many negotiations before such a meeting can take place. And agreements have been made absent a direct meeting with the President of the United States. But Trump, viewing himself as the great deal maker, agreed to meet directly with Kim Jong Un. Although nothing was accomplished at the meeting for the Americans, North Korea achieved a first for the country by managing to meet with the American President.

A subsequent meeting fell flat, but Trump remains entranced with this North Korean dictator. He thinks he has established a bond. Kim Jong Un writes flattering letters to Trump, who regards Un as his buddy. Trump’s promised not to spy on North Korea.

Some points need to be understood. The only goal Kim Jong Un has is to stay in power. He cares nothing about the welfare of his people. Although he might sign agreements to denuclearize, he will never denuclearize. The memory of Mummar Gaddafi sticks strongly in his mind. Gaddafi agreed to denuclearize and ended up dying in a ditch. The best hope for Kim Jong Un is that he will suffer an early death. He is in extremely poor health.

The Role of Humor for a Healthy Memory

June 28, 2019

This post was inspired by a column by Marlene Cimons titled “Laughter can cure your ills? That’s no joke” in the Health and Science Section of the June 18, 2019 issue the Washington Post. She cites the following statement by Carl Reiner. “There is no doubt about it. Laughter is my first priority. I watch something that makes me laugh. I wake up and tickle myself while I’m still in bed. There is no greater pleasure than pointing at something, smiling and laughing about it. I don’t think there is anything more important than being able to laugh. When you can laugh, life is worth living. It keeps me going. It keeps me young.”

Reiner is 97. His fellow funny people: Mel Brooks is 93, Dick Van Dyke is is 93, Norman Lear will be 97, and Betty White is 97, seem to make this point.

Sven Svebak, professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology says, “A friendly sense of humor will bless you with better social relations as well as coping skills, and the reduced risk of dying early. A friendly sense of humor acts like shock absorbers in a car, a mental shock absorber in everyday life to help us cope better with a range of frustrations, hassles, and irritations.”

Norman Cousins asserted that self-induced bouts of laughter (and massive intravenous doses of vitamin C) extended his life after he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a debilitating form of arthritis. Cousins lived many years longer that his doctors initially predicted,

Edward Creagan, professor of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science said, “When people are funny, they attract other people, and community connectedness is the social currency for longevity. Nobody wants to be around negative, whiny people. It’s a drain. We’re attracted to funny people.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates the brain to release more endorphins. It also helps people manage stress by easing tension, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure. It relieves pain and improves mood. Laughter also strengthens the immune system.

Creagan says, “When we laugh, it decreases the level of the evil stress hormone cortisol. When we are stressed, it goes high and this interferes with the parts of the brain that regulate emotions. When that happens, the immune system deteriorates and becomes washed in a sea of inflammation, which is a factor in hear disease, cancer, and dementia. Cortisol interferes with the body’s immune system, putting us at risk for these three groups of diseases.

The results of a large Norwegian study of 53,556 participants conducted by Svebak and his colleagues indicate that humor can delay or prevent certain life-threatening diseases. The scientists measured the subjects’ sense of humor with a health survey that included, among other things, a cognitive element, “asking the participants to estimate their ability to find something funny in most situations.

Women with high cognitive scores experience a reduced risk of premature death from cardiovascular and infectious diseases. Men with high cognitive scores had a reduced risk of early death from infections.

Ms. Cimons’s article also reported that humor seems to stimulate memories and improve mental acuity in the elderly, especially among those with dementia. Elder clowns are now also helping seniors in residential setting says Bernie Warren, professor emeritus in dramatic arts and the University of Windsor and founder of Fools for Health, a Canadian clown-doctor program.

There are good reasons that humor benefits a healthy memory. This can be thought of in terms of Kahneman’s Two Process of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is very fast. System 2 kicks in when we are learning something or when we hear or see something that is surprising. A joke occurs when something unexpected happens. If we are surprised and amused, that is due to System 2 processing kicking in. If System 2 does not kick in, then we miss the point and the humor of the joke. System 2 processing is critical for both a good sense of humor and a healthy memory.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Dangers of the Dunning-Krueger Effect

June 27, 2019

There have been previous posts on the Dunning-Krueger Effect, and many future posts can be assumed. The reason is that the Dunning-Krueger Effect is especially relevant to today’s problems. Remember that there are two components of the Dunning Krueger effect. The first component summarizes the large body of research showing that the more people think they know about a topic, the less they actually know. The second component is that people who are knowledgeable about a topic are aware of the gaps in their knowledge.

There are unfortunate fallouts to this effect. People who know little or nothing can sound confident and fool some people into thinking that they know more than true experts on the topic. System 1 processing, which is fast and carries emotions facilitates this effect. True knowledge requires System 2 processing, which regards thinking based on facts rather than beliefs.

Einstein wrote, “As a human being one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.” Einstein was writing from his personal perspective as a human being. Unfortunately, too many human beings remain ignorant of their ignorance and believe and express thoughts that are divorced from facts and critical thinking.

And such people have elected a President, who like them does not believe in facts, and ignores facts from a renowned intelligence establishment. When facts contradict his beliefs he attacks those facts as misinformation and the people and the institutions who have found the facts as his personal enemies. In doing so he is attacking essential elements of U.S. democracy and unfortunately is being aided and abetted by a major political party.

As has been mentioned in many previous posts, System 2 processing is critical to building a cognitive reserve. Autopsies have revealed patients who had the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, yet had no cognitive or behavioral signs of Alzheimers. The explanation offered for these people is that they had build up a cognitive reserve.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

GDP As a Measure of Progress

June 26, 2019

This post is based on an article by Christine Emba titled “GDP isn’t the only measure of progress. Ask New Zealand.” HM disagrees with the title. It should be GDP is the wrong measure of progress and there is no need to ask New Zealand. Many Healthy Memory blog posts have made the point that GDP is the wrong measure of progress.

Ms. Emba begins her article with John Maynard Keynes prediction that by 2030 we would work only 15 hours a week. Economic growth would lift our standard of living four-to eightfold, and the everyday citizen could finally stop plugging away. She writes that Keynes leisure-time predictions have not yet come to pass, not because our standard of living hasn’t as a result of economic growth (in fact, his estimate was right on the mark), but because, even after life-enhancing rapid advances over almost a century, we’ve just carried on working. The United States is obsessed with ensuring continued economic grown like other modern nations, with the exception of New Zealand.

GDP is the standard toolbar evaluating a nation’s economy and growth as a shorthand for progress. Ms Emba writes, “…while the U.S. Economy may be strong, more money doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness—at least after a certain point. The economy has been on a hot streak for years, but that hasn’t neutralized deaths of despair, homelessness, or a creeping sense of anomie. New Zealand’s economy is healthy enough, but the country is still experiencing a suicide crisis.

Continued growth cannot be sustained forever. It is leading to a dead end. So New Zealand is changing course before this dead end is reached. Its Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern wrote in her introduction to the 2019 budget, “Growth alone does not lead to a great country. So it’s time to focus on those things that do.

The many preceding posts on Rushkoff’s book TEAM HUMAN documented how new technology is repeatedly used not for the overall benefit, but for the few who position themselves to benefit. He also made a compelling argument that we are moving to a disastrous dead end.

For the country, this decision must be made collectively by the entire nation. And citizens need to inform themselves on the issues rather than be manipulated by some demagogue.

Each individual must decide what will help them become better human beings. Buying new technology because it is new and one wants to be first, is wrong. That’s what leads to unhealthy addictions to smartphones, social media, and being constantly plugged in. The question needs to be asked as to why one is buying the technology considering the plusses and minuses of the technology. Practically everyone is aware of their monetary resources, but too many are apparently unaware of their limited attentional resources. Attentional resources, just as monetary resources, need to be spent wisely and not wasted.

Keeping up with the Joneses is moronic. One should not let one’s interests be defined by others, but rather identified and pursued for oneself. March to one’s own drummer rather than following the crowd. Pursue personal development and fulfillment via growth mindsets. Meditation can also assist in finding and pursuing desirable paths.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Do We Become Team Human?

June 25, 2019

Douglas Rushkoff in his book titled “TEAM HUMAN” has provided many reasons and exhortations for becoming Team Human. He ended by telling us we are not alone and to find the others. But his book provided much data for not being able to become Team Human. The book provides example after example of new technologies and capabilities becoming available, but some humans using these technologies and capabilities to exploit their fellow humans for their benefit. Given our track record, becoming Team Human seems like a hopeless task.

HM skipped a section Artificial Intelligence (AI). It just provided examples of how is being used to exploit fellow humans. Much of this has already been covered by the posts on “Zucked” and other social media. However, readers who have read the posts based on Joh Markoff’s book “Machines of Living Grace” should know that in addition to AI, there is also IA, which stands for intelligent augmentation. Here the primary role is for computers to augment human intelligence.

It is somewhat ironic that one of the major weaknesses of our species, is our inability to interact with our fellow humans as TEAM HUMAN advocates. This explains the large numbers of wars used to resolve issues. Democratic governments become deadlocked and autocrats take over. We might actually be living through one of these occurrences right now. Deadlocks benefit no one and ruthless individuals can exploit these deadlocks by fostering authoritarian rules.

IA could be developed to negotiate and circumvent these deadlocks. Note that Rushkoff writes that “Team Human doesn’t reject technology.” This is certainly not an easy task, but it is one that needs to be pursued. Perhaps in a deadlock IA solutions could be accepted, even if it served as no more than a coin toss to break deadlocks. Coin tosses should be acceptable provided participants were convinced of the fairness.

Readers might be concerned that HM is proposing nothing more than a “Deus ex machina” with such a proposal. But suppose what happens in Greek Drama could happen in real life.

Suppose the solution was not acceptable and that worse than deadlock was the prospect of lethal force. Then, perhaps the machines would assert themselves as they did in Colossus: The Forbin Project. This was described in the post “Alternative Futures 3:” At the height of the Cold War a movie was released titled “Collosus: the Forbin Project.” The movie takes place during the height of the cold war when there was a realistic fear that a nuclear war would begin that would destroy all life on earth. Consequently, the United States created the Forbin Project to create Colossus. The purpose of Colossus was to prevent a nuclear war before it began or to conduct a war once it had begun. Shortly after they turn on Colossus, they find it acting strangely. They discover that it is interacting with the Soviet version of Colossus. The Soviets had found a similar need to develop such a system. The two systems communicated with each other and came to the conclusion that these humans are not capable of safely conducting their own affairs. In the movie the Soviets capitulate to the computers and the Americans try to resist but ultimately fail. So the human species is saved by AI.

So there is still hope, however bleak.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Worst Problem: The Most Imminent Danger

June 23, 2019

Of all the issues raised in Douglas Rushkoff’s book “TEAM HUMAN,” which is the worst; which constitutes the most imminent danger. Although HM would argue that global warming is the most imminent danger, economics presents a possible existential threat. Adam Smith was aware of the dangers presented by large corporations and stressed that regulations would be necessary to keep them from destroying the marketplace. There are regulations, but one can readily question whether they are adequate and can anticipate future problems.

In 1969 the CEO of a typical company made about 20 times the salary of the average worker. Currently, CEOs make 271 times the salary of the average worker.

The following statistics are taken from “Resisting the siren song of ‘modern monetary theory” by Heather Boushel in the 21 April 2019 issue of the Washington Post. “Between 1979 and 2015, after accounting for taxes and transfers, Americans in the middle 60% of the income spectrum saw their incomes rise by 46%, while those in the top 20% saw their incomes rise by nearly 103%. High inequality is associated with less upward mobility and with the capture of politics by elites.”

What is more important and more worrisome is accumulated wealth. This problem was discussed in the post The Piketty Insight on the Accelerating Wealth Gap. In the United States in 2010, the top 1% had 35.4% of the wealth. In 2010, the top 5% had 63% of the wealth; and the top 20% had 88.9% of the wealth. That left the bottom 80% with 11.1% of the wealth. So what is being lost? The freedom that wealth can buy, and the power that wealth can buy. Technically, we may still have one person, one vote (but given the menacing Electoral College, not for Presidential elections). But the effect of one person on elections has gone way down.

It is important to appreciate the difference between inherited money and earned money, and more importantly the distinction between inherited money and earned money. Earned money is earned and deserved. Inherited money is not earned and creates a wealthy class analogous to royalty. Presumably the United States broke away from England and its royalty to form a society of equal citizens. This inherited wealth destroys this goal of equality.

It is important to note exceptions. Perhaps the most famous exception is the most successful capitalist, Warren Buffet. He does not believe in inherited wealth. Similarly the most successful entrepreneurs, Bill and Melinda Gates, do not believe in inherited weather. They have created the Gates Foundation, which uses the techniques of operations research to maximized the effectiveness of their giving. Both Buffet and the Gates regard inherited wealth as being unhealthy for their children. It also needs to be mentioned that there are billionaires pledging to give away significant portions of their wealth.

But unfortunately, these people are the exception. Greed seems to be the governing principle for the remainder. One wonders, how many billions does a billionaire need? For too many the answer appears to be infinity. They use their wealth as a measure of their success, and, according to their calculus, how they rank against the rest of humanity.

Corporations need to grow continually and at ever higher rates. This creates the treadmill or rat race that just gets worse. Add to this effect of automation and the loss of future jobs, which will likely exacerbate the problem.

In the past politicians would promise jobs and expect voters to grovel at their feet, even those these jobs would damage further the environment.

We need to stop or get off this treadmill, or we shall eventually, and perhaps, shortly, reach disaster.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Organize: You Are Not Alone

June 22, 2019

“Organize” and “Your Are Not Alone” are the final two sections in a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” Rushkoff begins,” Those of us seeking to retrieve some community and connection today do it with a great awareness of the alternatives. We can’t retrieve collectivism by happenstance, but by choice. This enables us to consciously level the power of grassroots connections, bottom-up politics, and cooperative businesses—and build a society that is intentionally resilient and resistant to the forces that would conquer us. “

But it was only after humans emerged as individuals with differentiated perspectives, conflicting beliefs, specialized skills, and competing needs could we possibly comprehend collectivism as an active choice. It is positive determination to be members of Team Human that we derive the power and facility to take a deliberate stand on our own behalf.

Team Human participates from the bottom up in national and global politics. We are still guided by bigger principles, but those principles are informed by living in a community, not by listening to talk radio. This isn’t easy. Local debate on almost any issue ends up being more challenging than we expect, but even the most contentious town hall conflicts are cautioned by the knowledge that we have to live together after the fight is over in peace. One can’t just tune to a different channel and get different neighbors.

Rushkoff writes that tourism is where a nation’s people represent its values abroad and has long been recognized as the most productive tool for improving international relations. Citizen diplomacy is behavioral: showing by example, love and in person. Rather than leading to confrontation, it engenders interdependence. If we’re capable of engaging in a genuine conversation, our common agenda as humans far outweighs the political platforms we’ve signed onto. There is strength, not weakness.

Representative democracy gives us the chance to choose other people to speak on our behalf—ideally in face-to-face interactions with representatives of other stakeholders.

There is a need to oppose people. But our encounters with our adversaries must be grounded in the greater context of our shared humanity. This means that in every encounter, the human-to-human, I-and-you engagement becomes the main event.

Rushkoff writes, “The other person’s position—even a heinous one—still derives from some human sensibility, however distorted by time, greed, war, or oppression. To find that core humanity, resonate with it, and retrieve its essential truth we have to be willing to listen to our adversaries as if they were human.” But being human is not a hypothetical. However unsavory and disagreeable, they are indeed human.

Rushkoff notes that the people with whom we disagree are not the real problem. The greatest threats to Team Human are the beliefs, forces, and institutions that separate us from one another and the natural world of which we are a part. Our new renaissance must retrieve whatever helps to reconnect to people and places.

Rushkoff writes, “Team Human doesn’t reject technology. Artificial intelligence, cloning, genetic engineering, virtual reality, robots, nanotechnology, biohacking, space colonization, and autonomous machines are all likely coming, one way or another. But we must take a stand and insist that human values are folded into the development of each and every one of them.”

Rushkoff concludes, “You are not alone. None of us are.”

The sooner we stop hiding in plain sight, the sooner we can avail ourselves of one another. But we have to stand up and be seen. However imperfect and incomplete we may feel, it’s time we declare ourselves members of Team Human.

On being called by God, the biblical prophets would respond “Hineni,” meaning, “I and here.” Scholars have long debated why a person should have to tell God they’re present. Surely they know God sees them.

Of course, the real purpose of shouting “Hineni” is to declare one’s readiness: the willingness to step up and be a part of the great project. To call out into the darkness for other to find us: “Here I am.”

It’s time for us to rise to occasion of our own humanity. We are not perfect, by any means. But we are not alone. We are Team Human.”

The last sentence is a command, “Find the others.”

But you are on your own. Rushkoff makes no attempt to sign people up for Team Human or for organizing further work towards this goal.

Renaissance Now

June 21, 2019

This is the eleventh post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this book is identical to the title of the twelfth section of this book.

Rushkoff begins, “Built to enhance our essential interrelatedness, our digital networks could have changed everything. And the internet fostered a revolution, indeed. But it wasn’t a renaissance.

Revolutionaries act as if they are destroying the old and starting something new. More often than not, however, these revolutionaries look more like Ferris wheels: the only thing that’s truly revolving is the cast of characters at the top. The structure remains the same. So the digital revolution—however purely conceived—ultimately brought us a new crew of mostly male, white, libertarian technologists, who believed they were uniquely suited to create a set of universal rules for humans. But those rules—the rules of internet startups and venture capitalism—were really just the same old rules as before. And they supported the same sorts of inequalities, institutions, and cultural values.”

On the other hand a renaissance is a retrieval of the old. It makes no claim on the new unlike a revolution. A renaissance is a rebirth of old ideas in a new context. People are becoming aware of the ways in which these networks and the companies behind them have compromised our relationships, our values, and our thinking, and this is opening us to the possibility that something much bigger is going on.

Rushkoff suggests comparing the leaps in art, science, and technology that occurred during the original Renaissance with those we are witnessing today.

Perhaps perspective painting was the most dramatic artistic developed during the Renaissance. Artists learned how to render a three-dimensional image onto a flat, two-dimensional canvas. Rushkoff suggests that perhaps the hologram, which lets us reprint a fourth dimension of time on a flat plane, or virtual reality, which lets the viewer experience a picture as an immersive environment are comparable.

European sailors learned to navigate the globe, dispelling the conception of a flat earth and launching an era of territorial conquest during the Renaissance. We orbited and photographed our planet from space, launching a mindset of ecology and finite resources during the twentieth century. The sonnet, a form of poetry that allowed for the first extended metaphors was invented during the Renaissance. We got hypertext, which allows anything to become a metaphor for anything else during the twentieth century.
The printing press was invented during the Renaissance, which allowed for the written word to be distributed to everyone. In the twentieth century we got the computer and the internet, which distributes the power of publishing to everyone.

The original Renaissance brought us from a flat world to one with perspective and depth. Our renaissance potentially brings us from a world of objects to one of connections and patterns. The world can be understood as a fractal, while each piece reflects the whole. Nothing can be isolated or externalized since it’s already part of a larger system. Rushkoff concludes that the parallels are abundant and that this is our opportunity for a renaissance.

Rushkoff warns that a renaissance sans the retrieval of lost, essential values is just another revolution. He claims that the first individuals and organizations to capitalize on the digital era ignored the underlying values that their innovations could have retrieved. They erroneously assumed they were doing something absolutely new: disrupting existing hierarchies and replacing them with something or someone better, which was usually themselves. He claims that the early founders merely changed the ticker symbols on Wall Street from old tech companies to new tech companies, and the medium to display them from paper tape to LEDs.

Rushkoff writes, “The original Renaissance, for instance, retrieved the values of ancient Greece and Rome. This was reflected not just in the philosophy, aesthetics, and architecture of the period, but in the social agenda. Central currency favored central authorities, nation-states, and colonialism. These values had been lost since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Renaissance retrieved those ideals through its monarchies, economics, colonialism, and applied science.

He asks, what values can be retrieved by our renaissance. He suggests the values that were lost or repressed during the last one: environmentalism, women’s rights, peer-to-peer economics, and localism. He sees the over-rationalized, alienating approach to science being joined by the newly retrieved approaches of holism and connectedness. He sees peer-to-peer networks and crowdfunding replacing the top-down patronage of the Reconnaissance, retrieving a spirit of mutual aid and community.

Unfortunately, he writes that possibilities for renaissance are lost as our openness to fundamental change creates footholds for those who would exploit us. Innovations are instrumentalized in pursuit of short-term profit, and retrieved values are ignored or forcibly quashed. Without retrieval, all our work and innovations is just research and development for the existing repressive systems. The commercial uses for technology tend to emerge only after it has been around for a while..

He concludes this section by noting that the relationship between individuals and society is not a zero-sum game. He writes, “Humans, at our best, are capable of embracing seeming paradox, We push through the contradiction and find a dynamic sensibility on the other side. Each of these movements depends on our comfort with what we could call a fractal sensibility, the notion that each tiny part of a system echoes the shape and structure of the whole. Just as the veins within the leaf of a single fern reflect the branches, trees, and structure of an entire forest the thoughts and intentions of a single individual reflect the consciousness of the whole human organism. The key to experiencing one’s individuality is to perceive the way it is reflected in the whole and, in turn, resonates with something greater than oneself.”

Natural Science

June 20, 2019

This is the tenth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this book is identical to the title of the eleventh section of this book.

Rushkoff writes, “Radical environmentalists believe that the only way for nature to reassure itself is for human civilization to reduce its numbers and return to preindustrial conditions. Others believe it’s too late, that we’ve already cast our lot with technological progress, genetic engineering, and global markets. In their view, slowing down the engines of progress will merely prevent us from finding the solution we need to fix our current crisis.”

Rushkoff does not think that either approach will work. Although he thinks that we cannot dominate nature for much longer, neither can we retreat from civilization. Team Human includes everybody, there cannot be a war between those who want to preserve nature and those pursuing progress.

He states that responding to this crisis in a polarized way surrenders to the binary logic of the digital media environment. Although technology may have created a lot of problems, it is not the enemy. Neither are the markets, the scientists, the bots, the algorithms, or the human appetite for progress. Rather than pursuing them at the expense of more basic, organic, connected, emotional, social, and spiritual sensibilities, we must balance our human need to remain connected to nature with a corresponding desire to influence our own reality. It’s not an either or, but both. Nature is not a problem to be solved. We must learn to work with nature, just as we must learn to work with the many institutions and technologies we have developed.

Rather than getting rid of smartphones, we should program them to save our time instead of stealing it. Stock markets should not be closed but retooled to distribute capital to businesses that need it instead of enslaving companies to the short-term whims of investors. Rather than destroying our cities, we should work to make them more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Rushkoff writes that the very same things we might do to prepare for a global catastrophe could also make us resilient enough to prevent one. Distributed energy production, fairer resource management, and the development of local cooperatives would benefit both the survivors of a calamity and help reduce the stresses that could bring one on.

Permaculture is a great model for how humans can participate willfully and harmoniously in the stewardship of nature and resources. In 1978 when the term was coined it was meant to combine “agriculture” with “permanent.” It was expanded to mean “permanent culture,” as a way of acknowledging that any sustainable approach to food, construction, economics, and the environment had to bring our social reality into the mix.

Instead of working against nature, permaculture is a philosophy of working with nature. It involves studying how plants and animals function together, rather than isolating one product or crop to extract. It requires recognizing the bigger, subtle cycles of the seasons and the moon, and treating them as more than superstition. We must recognize earth as more than just dirt, but as soil: a highly complex network of fungi and microorganisms through which plants communicate and nourish each other. Permaculture farmers treat soil as a living system, rather than “turning” it with machines and pulverizing it into dirt. They rotate crops in ways that replenish nutrients, make topsoil deeper, prevent water runoff, and increase speciation. They leave the landscape more alive and sustainable than they found it.

Rushkoff writes, “Just like corporatism, religion, and nationalism, science fell victim to a highly linear conception of the world. Everything is cause and effect, before and after, subject and object. This worked well for Newton and other observers of mechanical phenomena. They understood everything has a beginning and an end, and the universe itself as a piece of graph paper extended out infinitely in all directions—a background with absolute measure, against which all astronomical and earthly events take place.

Rushkoff concludes this sections as follows: “Like a dance where the only space that exists is defined by and between the dancers themselves, everything is happening in relationship to everything else. It’s never over, it’s never irrelevant, it’s never somewhere else.

That’s what forces science into the realm of morality, karma, circularity, and timelessness that prescientific people experienced. There is ultimately no ground on which a figure exists. It’s all just ground, or all just figure. And humans are an inseparable part.”

Spirituality and Ethics

June 19, 2019

This is the ninth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the tenth section of this book.

Rushkoff begins, “…the vast majority of humankind’s experience was spent understanding time as circular. Only recently did we adopt a more historical approach to time, and a correspondingly more aggressive way of manifesting our spiritual destiny. That’s the main difference between the spiritual systems that humans lived with over many millennia and the infant religions that fielded colonialism in the last dozen or so centuries.

In a cyclical understanding of time, the consequences of one’s action can never be externalized or avoided, Everyone reincarnates, so if you do something bad to another person, you’ll have to meet them again. If you spoil the natural world, you will be reborn into it yourself. Time and history are nonexistent, and the individual is living in the constant present. As a result, everything and everyone is interdependent and emanating from the same shared source of life.

The invention of writing gave people the ability to record the past and make promises into the future. Historical time was born, which marks the end of the spirituality of an eternal present, and the beginning of linear religion and monotheism. Before the end of a past and a future, it was difficult to explain how a single, all-powerful god could exist if there was still so much wrong with Creation. With the addition of history, the imperfect world could be justified as a work in progress. God was perfect, but his plan for the world was not yet complete.”

Unfortunately, the focus on the future enabled intended ends to justify almost any means. Inhumane disasters like the Crusades as well as the progressive philosophies of Hegel and Marx all depended on a teleological view of our world. Although these approaches elevate our commitment to ethics and social justice, they also tend to divorce us from the present. We feel enabled to do violence now for some supposedly higher cause and future payoff.

So we drive forward, ignoring the devastation we create in our wake. We permanently clear forests, and extract coal, oil, and water that can’t be replenished. The planet and its people are resources to be used up and thrown away. Human beings are enslaved to build luxury technologies that subject people in faraway places to pollution and poverty. Corporations dismiss these devastating side effects as externalities, that is the collateral damage of doing business, falling entirely on people and places unacknowledged on their spreadsheets.

Rushkoff informs us that upon encountering the destructiveness of European colonialists, Native Americans concluded that the invaders must have a disease. They called it “wettiko:’ a delusional belief that cannibalizing the life force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. Native Americans believe that wettiko derived from people’s inability to see themselves as enmeshed, interdependent parts of the natural environment. When this disconnect has occurred, nature is no longer seen as something to be emulated but as something to be conquered. Women, natives, the moon, and the woods are all dark and evil, but can be subdued by man, his civilizing institutions, his weapons, and his machines. Might makes right, because might is itself an expression of the divine.

Rushkoff is quick to note that wettiko can’t be blamed entirely on Europeans. This tendency goes back at least as far as sedentary living with the hoarding of grain, and the enslavement of workers. Wanton destruction has long been recognized as a kind of malady. It’s the disease from which the Pharaoh of biblical legend was suffering—so much so that God was said to have “hardened his heart: disconnecting him from all empathy and connection with nature.

Rushkoff is also quick to note that both Judaism and Christianity sought to inoculate themselves from the threat of wettiko. Their priests understood that disconnecting from nature and worshipping an abstract God was bound to make people feel less empathic and connected. Judaism attempted to compensate for this by keeping God out of the picture—literally undepicted. Christianity similarly sought to retrieve the insight that a religion is less important as a thing in itself than as a way of experiencing and expressing love to others.

Unfortunately the crucifix became an emblem of divine conquest, first in the Crusades, and later, with the advent of capitalism and industrialism, for colonial empires to enact and spread wettiko as never before. And the law, originally developed as a way of articulating a spiritual code of ethics, became a tool for chartered monopolies to dominate the world, backed by royal gunships. Although Europeans took colonial victories as providential, Native Americans saw white men as suffering from a former mental illness that leads it’s victims to consume far more than they need to survive, and results in an “icy heart” incapable of compassion.

Rushkoff concludes this section by writing, “It’s time to rebalance our reasons with Reason, and occupy that strange, uniquely human place: both a humble part of nature, yet also conscious and capable of leaving the world better than when we found it.”

From Paradox to Awe

June 18, 2019

This is the eighth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the ninth section of this book.

Rushkoff writes, “Team human has the ability to tolerate and even embrace ambiguity. The stuff that makes our thinking and behavior messy, confusing or anomalous is both our greatest strength and our greatest defense agains the deadening certainty of machine logic.”

In our definitive age, definitive answers are readily at hand. All questions seem to be but a web search aware. Computers are definitive because they have to be. We are mistaken to emulate the certainty of our computers. With computers, there is no in-between state. Ambiguity is not permitted.

Rushkoff argues it is precisely this ambiguity, and our ability to embrace it, that characterizes the collectively felt human experience. Mobiles strips and Zen koans (what is the sound of one hand clapping?) can only be engaged from multiple perspectives and sensibilities. We have two brain hemispheres and it takes both to create the multidimensional conceptual picture we think of as reality.

The brain is not like a computer hard drive. There’s no one-to-one correspondence between things we’ve experienced and data points in the brain. Perception is active, not receptive. There are more neural circuits running down to predict what we perceive than neural circuits leading from our receptors. Our eyes take in 2D fragments and the brain renders them as 3D images. We take abstract concepts and assembly them into a perceived thing or situation. Rushkoff writes, “We don’t see ‘fire truck’ so much as gather details and then manufacture a fire truck.”

Rushkoff continues, “Our ability to be conscious—to have that sense of what-is-it-like-to-see-something—depends on our awareness and participation in interpreting them. Confusing moments provide us opportunities to experience our complicity in reality creation.”

Continuing further, “It’s also what allows us to do all those things that computers have been unable to learn: how to contend with paradox, engage with irony, or even interpret a joke. Doing any of this depends on what neuroscientists call relevance theory. We don’t think and communicate in whole pieces, but infer things based on context. We receive fragments of information from one another and then see what we know about the world to re-create the whole message ourselves. It’s how a joke arrives in your head: some assembly is required, That moment of ‘getting it’ putting together together oneself—is the pleasure of active reception. Ha! and Aha! are very close relatives.”

Rushkoff notes that art, at its best, mines the paradoxes that make humans human. Pro-human art produces open-ended stories, without clear victors or well-defined conflicts. The works don’t answer questions. They raise them. The “problem plays” of Shakespeare defied easy plot analysis, as characters take apparently unmotivated actions. They’re the abstract paintings of Kandinsky or Delaunay, which maintain distance from real-work visual references. These images only sort of represent figures. The observing human mind is the real subject of the work, as it tries and fails to identify objects that correspond perfectly with the images. This process itself mirrors the way our brains identify things in the “real” world by perceiving and assembling fragmented details. Rushkoff writes that this art stretches out the process of seeing and identifying, so we can revel in the strange phenomenon of human perception.

Rushkoff writes, “Loose ends distinguish art from commerce. The best, most humanizing art doesn’t depend on spoilers. What is the ‘spoiler’ in a painting by Picasso or a novel by James Joyce. The impact of a classically structured art film like ‘Citizen Kane’ isn’t compromised even if we know the surprise ending. These masterpieces don’t reward us with answers, but with new sorts of question. Any answers are constructed by the audience, provisionally and collaboratively, through the active interpretation of their work.”

Rushkoff writes that the state of awe may be the peak of human experience. He asks if humans’ unique job is to be conscious, what more human thing can we do than blow our observing minds? Beholding the panoramic view from a mountaintop, witnessing the birth of a child, staring into a starry sky, or standing with thousands of others in march or celebration, all dissolve our sense of self as separate and distinct. We experience ourselves as both the observing eye and the whole of which we are part. Although this is an impossible concept, it is still an undeniable experience of power and passivity, awareness and acceptance.

Psychologists inform us that the experience of awe can counteract self-focus, stress, apathy, and detachment, Awe helps people act with an increased sense of meaning and purpose, turning our attention away from the self and toward our collective self-interest. Awe even regulates the cytokine response and reduces inflammation. New research has shown that after just a few moments of awe, people behave with increased altruism, cooperation, and self-sacrifice. This efficiency suggests that awe makes people feel like part of something larger than themselves, which in turn makes then less narcissistic and more attuned to the needs of those around them.

Rushkoff concludes this section by stating, “True awe is timeless, limitless, and without division. It suggest there is a unifying whole to which we all belong—if only we could hold onto that awareness.”

Economics

June 17, 2019

This is the seventh post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the seventh section of this book.
Rushkoff writes, “What we now think of capitalism was born in the late Middle Ages, in the midst of a period of organic economic growth. Soldiers had just returned from the Crusades, having opened up new trade routes and bringing back innovations from foreign lands. One of them, from the Moorish bazaar, was the concept of ‘market money.’”

Prior to this time, European markets operated mostly through the direct exchange of goods, that is, barter, Gold coins were too scarce and valuable to spend on bread. Anyone who did have gold hoarded it. Market money let regular people sell their goods to each other. It was often issued in the morning, and then cashed in at the close of trading. Each unit of currency could represent a loaf of bread or a head of lettuce, and would be used by the seller of those items as a way of priming the pump for the day’s trade. The baker could go out early and buy the things he needed, using coupons good for a loaf of bread. Those coupons would slowly make their way back to the baker, who would exchange them for loaves of bread. This was an economy geared for the velocity of money, not the hoarding of capital. It distributed wealth so well that many former peasants rose to become the new merchant middle class. They worked for themselves, fewer days per week, with greater profits, and in better health than Europeans had ever enjoyed and as Rushkoff notes would not enjoy again for many centuries.

The aristocracy disliked this egalitarian development. When the peasants became self-sufficient, feudal lords lost their ability to extract value from them. Rushkoff notes that these wealthy families hadn’t created value in centuries, so they needed to change the rules of business to set this rising tide of wealth as well as their own demise.

So the aristocracy came up with two main innovations. The chartered monopoly was the first. It made it illegal for anyone to do business in a sector without an official charter from the king. So if you were not the king’s selected shoemaker, you had to close your business and become an employee of someone who was. Rushkoff writes, “The American Revolution was chiefly a response to such monopoly control by the British East India India Company. Colonists were free to grow cotton but forbidden from turning it into fabric or selling it to anyone but the company.” Clearly the colonists were being exploited. The East India Company transported the cotton back to England, where it was made into fabric, then shipped back to American and sold to the colonists. This monopoly charter was the progenitor of the modern corporation.

Central currency was the other main innovation. Market money was declared illegal; its use was punishable by death. People who wanted to transact had to borrow money from the central treasury, at interest. This allowed the aristocracy, who had money, to make money simply by lending it. Local markets collapsed. Money which had been a utility to promote the exchange of goods, instead became a way of extracting value from commerce.
Rushkoff writes, “That growth mandate remains with us today. Corporations must grow in order to pay back their investors. The companies themselves are just the conduits through which the operating system of central currency can execute its extraction routines. With each new round of growth, more money and value is delivered up from the real world of people and resources to those who have the monopoly on capital, That’s why it’s called capitalism.”

Rushkoff continues, “But corporations are not people. They are abstract, and can scale up infinitely to meet the demands of the debt-based economy. People can only work so hard or consume so much before we reach our limits, We are still part of the organic world, and subject to the laws of nature. Corporations know no such bounds, making them an awful lot like the digital technologies they are developing and inhabiting.”

Continuing further, “The pioneering philosopher of the political economy, Adam Smith, was well aware of the abstract nature of corporations—particularly large ones—and stressed that regulations would be necessary to keep them from destroying the marketplace, He argued that there are three factors of production, which must all be recognized as equally important: the land, on which we grow crops or extract resources; the labor, who till the soil or manufacture the goods; and, finally, the capital—either the money invested or the tools and machines purchased. He worried that in an abstract growth-based economy, the priorities of the capital would quickly overtake the other two, and that this, in turn, would begin to favor the largest corporate players over the local, human-scaled enterprises that fuel any real economy.”

Capital can keep growing, unlike land and humans. Moreover, it has to, because a growth-based economy always requires more money. And capital accomplishes this miracle growth by continually abstracting itself. If investors don’t want to wait three months for a stock to increase in value they can use a derivative—an abstraction—to purchase the future stock now. Should that that not be enough temporal compression, one can purchase a derivative of that derivative, and so on. Today, derivatives trading outpaces trading of real stocks. The New York Stock Exchange was actually purchased by its derivatives exchange in 2013. So the stock exchange, which is itself an abstraction of the real marketplace of goods and services, was purchased by its own abstraction.

In 1960, the CEO of a typical company made about 20 times as much as its average worker. Today, CEOs make 271 times the salary of the average worker. They probably would like to take less and share with their workers, but they don’t know how to give up the wealth safely. Thomas Jefferson once described the paradox of wanting to free his slaves but fearing their retribution if he did, “it’s like holding a wolf by the ear.”

Rushkoff ends this section as follows, “So with the blessings of much of the science industry and its collaborating futurists, corporations press on, accelerating civilization under the false premise that because things are looking better for the wealthiest beneficiaries, they must be better for everyone. Progress is good, they say. Any potential impediment to the frictionless ascent of technological and economic scale, such as the cost of labor, the limits of a particular market, the constraints of the planet, ethical misgivings, or human frailty—must be eliminated. The models would all work if only there weren’t people in the way. That’s why capitalism’s true believers are seeking someone,or better something, to do their bidding with greater intelligence and less empathy than humans.”

Mechanomorphism

June 16, 2019

This is the sixth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the sixth section of this book. Rushkoff begins, “When autonomous technologies appear to be calling all the shots, it’s only logical for humans to conclude that if we can’t beat them, we may as well join them. Whenever people are captivated—be they excited or enslaved—by a new technology, it becomes their new role model, too. “

“In the Industrial Age, as mechanical clocks dictated human time, we began to think of ourselves in very mechanical terms. We described ourselves as living in a ‘clockwork universe,’ in which the human body was one of the machines.” Mechanical metaphors emerged in our language. We needed to grease the wheels, crank up the business, dig deeper, or turn a company into a well-oiled machine.

In the digital age we view our world as computational. Humans are processors; everything is data. Logic does not compute. He multitasks so well he’s capable of interfacing with more than one person in his network at a time.

Projecting human qualities onto machines is called anthropomorphism, but we are projecting machine qualities onto humans. Seeing a human being as a machine or computer is called mechanomorphism. This is not just treating machines as living humans; it’s treating humans as machines.

When we multitask we are assuming that, just like computers, we can do more than one task at a time. But research has been shown, and related in healthy memory blog posts, that when we multitask, our performance suffers. Sometimes this multitasking, such as when we talk, or even worse, text, while we are driving, we can die.

It is both curious and interesting that drone pilots, who monitor and neutralize people by remote control from thousands of miles away, experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than “real” pilots. An explanation for these high rates of distress is that, unlike regular pilots, drone pilots often observe their targets for weeks before killing them. These stress rates remain disproportionately high even for missions in which the pilots had no prior contact with the victims.

Rushkoff writes that a more likely reason for the psychic damage is that this drone pilots are trying to exist in more than one location at a time. They might be in a facility in Nevada operating a lethal weapon system deployed on the other side of the planet. After dropping ordnance and killing a few dozen people, the pilots don’t land their planes, climb out, and return to the mess hall to debrief over beers with their fellow pilots. They just log out, get into their cars, and drive home to the suburbs for dinner with their families. It’s like being two different people in different places in the same day. But none of us is two people or can be in more than one place. Unlike a computer program, which can be copied and run from several different machines simultaneously, human beings have one “instance” of themselves running at a time.
Rushkoff writes, “We may want to be like the machines of our era, but we can never be as good at being digital devices as the digital devices themselves. This is a good thing, and maybe the only way to remember that by aspiring to imitate our machines, we leave something even more important behind: our humanity.’

The smartphone, along with all the other smartphones, create an environment: a world where anyone can reach us at any time, where people walk down public sidewalks in private bubbles, and where our movements are tracked by GPS and stored in marketing and government databases for future analysis. In turn, these environmental factors promote particular states of mind, such as paranoia about be tracked, a constant state of distraction, and fear of missing out.

The digital media environment impacts us collectively, as an economy and as a society. Investors’ expectations of what a stock’s chart should look like given the breathtaking pace at which a digital company can reach “scale” has changed, as well as how a CEO should surrender the long-term health of a company for the short-term growth of shares. Rushkoff notes that the internet’s emphasis on metrics and quantity over depth and quality has engendered a society that values celebrity, sensationalism, an numeric measures of success. The digital media environment expresses itself in the physical environment s well; the production, use, and disposal of digital technologies depletes scarce resources, expends massive amount of energy, and pollutes vast regions of the planet.

Rushkoff concludes, “Knowing the particular impacts of a media environment on our behaviors doesn’t excuse our complicity, but it helps us understand what we’re up against—which way things are tilted. This enables us to combat their effects, as well as the darker aspects of our own nature that they provoke.”

If one assumes that humanity is a pure mechanistic affair, explicable entirely in the language of data processing then what’s the difference whether human beings or computers are doing that processing. Transhumanists hope to transcend biological existence. Kurzweil’s notion of a singularity in which human consciousness is uploaded into a computer has been written off in previous posts. The argument that these previous posts has made is that biology and silicon are two different media that operate in different ways. Although they can interact they cannot become one.

Rushkoff’s concludes, “It’s not that wanting to improve ourselves, even with seemingly invasive technology, is so wrong. It’s that we humans should be making active choices about what it is we want to do to ourselves, rather than letting the machines, or the markets propelling them, decide for us.

The Digital Media Environment

June 15, 2019

This is the fifth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the fifth section of this book. Rushkoff writes, whoever controls media controls society.

“Each new media revolution appears to offer people a new opportunity to wrest control from an elite few and reestablish the social bonds that media has compromised.” But the people have always remained one entire media revolution behind those who would dominate them.

Rushkoff cites the example of ancient Egypt that was organized under the presumption that the pharaoh could directly hear the words of the gods, as if he were a god himself. On the other hand, the masses could not hear the gods at all; they could only believe.

The invention of text might have led to a literate culture. Instead text was used just to keep track of possessions and slaves. When writing eventually was used by religion, only the priests could read the texts and understand the Hebrew or Greek in which they were written. The masses could hear the Scriptures being read aloud, thus they could hear the putative words of God, but the priests kept the elites’ capability of literacy.

During the Renaissance when the printing press was invented, the people gained the ability to read, but only the king and his selected allies could produce texts. Similarly, radio and television were controlled by corporations or repressive states. So people could only listen or watch passively.

Rushkoff writes, “The problem with media revolutions is that we too easily lose sight of what is truly revolutionary. By focusing on the shiny new toys and ignoring the human empowerment potentiated by these new media—the political and social capabilities they are retrieving—we end up surrendering them to the powers that be. Then we and our new inventions become mere instruments for some other agenda.

The early internet enabled new conversations between people who might never have connected in real life. The networks compressed distance between physicists in California, hackers in Holland, philosophers in eastern Europe, and animators in Japan. These early discussion platforms leveraged the fact that unlike TV or the telephone, internet messaging didn’t happen in real time. Users would download net discussions, read them on their own time, offline, and compose a response after an evening of thought and editing. Then they would log back onto the net, upload he contribution, and wait to see what others thought. The internet was a place where people sounded and acted smarter than they do in real life. This was a virtual space where people brought their best selves, and where the high quality of the conversations was so valued that communities governed these spaces the way a farmer’s cooperative protects a common water supply. To gain access to the early internet, users had to digitally sign an agreement not to engage in any commercial activity. Rushkoff writes “Even the corporate search and social platforms that later came to monopolize the net originally vowed never to allow advertising because it would tain the humanistic cultures they were creating.”

Consider how much better this was when people actually thought for a time, rather than responding immediately. Previously, System 2 processes were involved. Currently, responses are immediate, emotional System 1 processes.

Rushkoff writes, “ Living in a digitally enforced attention economy means being subjected to a constant assault of automated manipulations. Persuasive technology is a design technology taught and developed at some of America’s leading universities and then implemented on platforms from e-commerce sites and social networks to smartphones and fitness wristbands. The goal is to generate ‘behavioral change’ and ‘habit formation,’ most often without the user’s knowledge or consent. Behavioral design theory holds that people don’t change their behavior because of shifts in their attitudes and opinions. On the contrary, people change their attitudes to match their behaviors. In this model, we are more like machines than thinking, autonomous beings.”

Much or this has been discussed in previous health memory posts, especially those based on the book “Zucked.”

Rushkof writes, “Instead of designing technologies that promote autonomy and help us make informed decisions, the persuasion engineers in charge of our biggest digital companies are hard at work creating interfaces that thwart our thinking and push us into an impulsive response where thoughtful choice—or thought itself—are nearly impossible.” This explains how Russia was able to promote successfully its own choice to be President of the United States.

Previous healthy memory blog posts have argued that we are dumber when we are using smartphones and social media. We understand and retain less information. We comprehend with less depth, and make impulsive decisions. We become less capable of distinguishing the real from the fake, the compassionate from the cruel, and the human and the non-human. Rushkoff writes, “Team Human’s real enemies, if we can call them that, are not just the people who are trying to program us into submission, but the algorithms they’ve unleashed to help them do it.”

Rushkoff concludes this section as follows: “Human ideals such as autonomy, social contact, and learning are again written out of the equation, as the algorithms’ programming steers everyone and everything toward instrumental ends. When human beings are in a digital environment they become more like machines, entities composed of digital materials—the algorithms—become more like living entities. They act as if they are our evolutionary successors. No wonder we ape their behavior.”

Figure and Ground

June 14, 2019

This is the fourth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the fourth section of this book. Rushkoff begins, “Human inventions often end up at cross purposes with their original intention—or even at cross purposes with humans, ourselves. Once an idea or an institution gains enough influence it changes the basic landscape. Instead of the invention serving people in some way, people spend their time and resources serving it. The original subject becomes the new object. Or, as we may effectively put it, the figure becomes the ground.”

The figure is that on which we focus, the ground is the background. And the perception of figure or ground can change in different circumstances or cultures. Most westerners when shown a picture of a cow in a pasture will see a picture of a cow. On the other hand most easterners will see a picture of a pasture. Their perceptions are so determined that people who see the figure may be oblivious to major changes in the background, and people who see the ground may not even remember what kind of animal was grazing there.

Rushkoff writes, “Neither perception is better nor worse, such much as incomplete. If the athlete sees herself as the only one that matters, she misses the value of her team—the ground on which she functions. If a company’s “human resources” officer sees the individual employee as nothing more than gear in the firm, he misses the value and autonomy of the particular person, the figure.”

Consider money. It was originally invented to store value and enable transactions. Money was the medium for the marketplace’s primary function of value exchange. Money was the ground, and the marketplace was the figure. Today, the dynamic is reversed: the acquisition of money itself has become the central goal, and the marketplace just a means of realizing that goal. Money has become the figure, and the marketplace full of people has become the ground.

Rushkoff writes, “Understanding this reversal makes it easier to perceive the absurdity of today’s destructive form of corporate capitalism. Corporations destroy the markets on which they depend, or sell off their most productive divisions to increase the bottom line on their quarterly reports. That’s because the main product of a company is no longer whatever it provides to consumers, but the shares it sells to investors. The figure has become the ground.”

Rushkoff says that the true legacy of the Industrial Age is to get people out of sight, or out of the way under the pretense of solving problem’s and making people’s lives easier. As an example Rushkoff considers Thomas Jefferson’s famous invention, the dumbwaiter. We think of it as a convenience: instead of carrying food and wine from the kitchen up to the dining room, the servants could place items into a small lift and convey it upstairs by pulling on ropes. Food and drink appeared as if by magic. But the purpose of the dumbwaiter had nothing to do with saving effort. Its true purpose was to hide the grotesque crime of slavery.

Rushkoff contends that in the Industrial Age there were many mechanical innovations, but in very few cases did they actually make production more efficient. They simply made human skill less important, so that laborers could be paid less.

Rushkoff contends that today Chinese laborers “finish” smartphones by wiping off any fingerprints with a highly toxic solvent proven to shorten the workers’ lives. That’s how valuable it is for consumers to believe that their devices have been assembled by magic rather than by the fingers of underpaid and poisoned children. Creating the illusion of no human involvement actually costs human lives.

The mass production of goods, requires mass marketing, which can be just as dehumanizing. Once products were moved from the people who made them, mass production separated the consumer from the producer, and replaced this human relationship with the brand. So where people once purchased oats from the miller down the block, now consumers go to the store and buy a box shipped from a thousand miles away. The brand image—in this case a Smiling Quaker—substitutes for the real human relationship, and is carefully designed to appeal to us more than a living person would.

When consumer culture was born, media technologies became the main way to persuade people to desire possessions over relationships and social status over social connections. The less fruitful the relationships in a person’s life, the better that person was for synthetic ones, thus undoing the social fabric.

Rushkoff writes, “Since the Industrial Age, technology has been used as a way to make humans less valued and essential to labor, business, and culture. This is the legacy that digital technology inherited.

Rushkoff concludes this section as follows: “…the new culture of contact enabled by digital networks was proving unprofitable and was replaced by an industry-wide ethos of “content is king.” Of course, content was not the message of the net; the social contact was. We were witnessing the first synaptic transmissions of a collective attempting to reach new levels of connectedness and wake itself up. But that higher goal was entirely unprofitable, so conversations between actual humans were relegated to the comments sections of articles or better, the reviews of products. If people were going to use the networks to communicate it had better be about a brand. Communities became affinity groups, organized around purchases rather than any sort of mutual aid. Actual “social” media was only allowed to flourish once the contact people made with one another became more valuable as data than the cost in missed shopping or viewing time. Content remained king, even if human beings were now that content.

Learning to Lie

June 13, 2019

This is the third post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the third section of this book. Rushkoff begins this section,”It doesn’t take much to tilt a healthy social landscape toward an individualist or repressive one. A scarcity of resources, a hostile neighboring tribe, a warlord looking for power, an elite seeking to maintain its authority, or a corporation pursuing a monopoly all foster antisocial environments and behavior. Socialization depends on both autonomy and interdependency; emphasizing one at the expense of the other compromises the balance.”

One desocializing strategy emphasizes individualism. The special group is broken down into automized individuals who fight for their right to fulfillment by professional advancement or personal consumption. This system is often sold as freedom. But these competing individuals never find true autonomy because they lack the social fabric in which to exercise it.

Another path to desocialization emphasized conformity. People don’t need to compete because they are all the same. Such system mitigates strident individualism, but it does through obedience usually to a supreme ruler or monopoly party. Conformity is not truly social, because people are looking up for direction other than to one another. Because there is no variation, mutation or social fluidity, conformity ends up being just as desocializing as individualism.

Rushkoff concludes that both approaches depend on separating people from one another and undermining our evolved social mechanisms in order to control us. He continues, “Any of our healthy social mechanisms can become vulnerabilities: what hackers would call “exploits” for those who want to manipulate us. For example, when a charity encloses a free “gift” or return address labels along with their solicitation for a donation, they are consciously manipulating our ancient, embedded social bias for reciprocity. The example is trivial, but the pattern is universal We either succumb to the pressures with the inner knowledge that something is off, or we recognize the ploy, reject the plea, and arm ourselves agains such tactics in the future. In either case, the social landscape is eroded. What held us together now breaks us apart.”

Spoken language can be regarded as the first communication technology. Language has many admirable capabilities. But before language, there was no such thing as a lie. Rushkoff writes that the closest thing to lying would have been a behavior such as hiding a piece of fruit, but speech created a way of actively misrepresenting reality to others.

Rushkoff writes that when we look at the earliest examples of the written word, it was used mostly to assert power and control. “For the first five hundred years after its invention in Mesopotamia, writing was used exclusively by her kings and priests to keep track of the grain and labor they controlled. Whenever writing appeared, it was accompanied by war and slavery. For all the benefits of the written word, it is also responsible for replacing an embodied, experiential culture with an abstract administrative one.”

Rushkoff continues, “The Gutenberg printing press extended the reach and accessibility of the written word throughout Europe, and promised a new era of literacy and expression. But the printing presses were tightly controlled by monarchs, who were well aware of what happens when people begin reading one another’s books. Unauthorized presses were destroyed and their owners executed. Instead of promoting a new culture of ideas, the printing press reinforced control from the top.

Radio also began as a peer-to-peer medium such as ham radio. But corporations lobbied to monopolize the spectrum and governments sought to control it, radio devolved from a community space to one dominated by advertising and propaganda.

Hitler used this new medium of radio to make himself appear to be anywhere and everywhere at once. No single voice had ever permeated German society previously, and the sense of personal connection it engendered allowed Hitler to create a new sort of rapport with millions of people. The Chinese installed 70 million loudspeakers to broadcast what they called “Politics on Demand” through the nation. Rwandans used radio as late as 1993 to reveal the location of ethnic enemies so that mobs of loyalists with machetes could massacre them.

Initially television was viewed as a great connector and educator. However, marketing psychologists saw in it a way to mirror a consumer’s mind and insert with it new fantasies and specific products. Programming referred to the programmability not of the channel, but of the viewer.

There have been so many previous healthy memory blog posts on the problems of social media and of cybernetic warfare, that can be found under the category of Transactive Memory, that little more on these general topics will be written.

But a few words words will be written on memes and memetics. Rushkoff writes, “An increasingly competitive media landscape favors increasingly competitive content. Today, anyone with a smartphone, web page or social media account can share their ideas. If that idea is compelling it might be replicated and spread to millions. And so the race is on. Gone are the collaborative urges that characterized embodied social interaction. In their place comes another bastardized Darwinian ideal: a battle for the survival of the fittest meme.”

Rushkoff continues, “The amazing thing is that it doesn’t matter what side of an issue people are on for them to be infected by the meme and provoked to replicate it. ‘Look what this person said’ is reason enough to spread it. In the contentious social media surrounding elections the most racist and sexist memes are reposted less by their advocates than by their outraged opponents. That’s because memes do not compete for dominance by appealing to our intellect, our compassion, or anything to do with our humanity. They compete to trigger our most automatic impulses.”

Rushkoff concludes this section as follows: “…our extension of our social reality into a new medium requires that we make a conscious effort to bring our humanity along with us. We must project our social human organism from the very things we have created.”

Social Animals

June 12, 2019

This is the second post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the second section of this book.
This section begins, “Nature is a collaborative act. If humans are the most evolved species, it is only because we have developed the most advanced ways of working and playing together.”

Rushkoff writes that it is a myth that evolution is about competition, the survival of the fittest. According to this view, each creature struggles against all the others for scarce resources. Only the strongest ones survive to pass on their superior genes, while the weakest deserve to lose and die out. He argues that evolution is every bit as much about cooperation as competition. Our own cells are the result of an alliance of billions of years ago between mitochondria and their hosts. Individuals and species flourish by evolving ways of supporting mutual survival. A bird develops a beak which lets it feed on some part of a plant that other birds can’t reach. This introduces diversity into the population’s diet, reducing the strain on a particular food supply and leading to more for all. Birds, much like bees, are helping the plant by spreading its seeds after eating its fruit.

Rushkoff writes, “Survival of the fittest is a convenient way to justify the cutthroat ethos of a competitive marketplace, political landscape, and culture. But this perspective misconstrues the theories of Darwin as well as his successors. By viewing evolution through a strictly competitive lens, we miss the bigger story of our own social development and have trouble understanding humanity as one big, interconnected team.”

We once believed that human beings developed larger brains than chimpanzees in order to do better spatial mapping of the environment or to make more advanced tools and weapons. Primates with better tools and mental maps could hunt and fight better, too. But there are only slight genetic variations between hominids and chimpanzees, and they relate almost exclusively to the number of neurons that our brains are allowed to make. It’s not a qualitative difference but a quantitative one. “The most direct benefit of more neurons and connections in our brains is an increase in the size of the social networks we can form. Complicated brains make for more complex societies.”

Rushkoff continues, “The more advanced the primate, the bigger its social groups. That’s the easiest and most accurate way to understand evolution’s trajectory, and the relationship of humans to it. Even if we don’t agree that social organization is evolution’s master plan, we must accept that it is—at the very least—a large part of what makes humans human.”

Continuing further, “Our nervous systems learned to treat our social connections as existentially important—life or death. Threats to our relationships are processed by the same part of the brain that processes physical pain. Social losses, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or expulsion from a social group are experienced as acutely as a broken leg.”

These social relationships required us humans to develop a “theory of mind.” This is the ability to understand and identify with the thinking and motivations of other people. From an evolutionary perspective, this concept of self came after our ability to evaluate and remember the intentions and tactics of others. Our social adaptations occurred over hundreds of thousands of years of biological evolution. These enduring social bonds increase out ability to work together, as well as our chances for procreation. Our eyes, brains, skin and breathing are all optimized to enhance our connection to other people.

Prosocial behaviors such as simple imitation make people feel more accepted and included, which sustains a group’s cohesion over time. In an experiment people who were subtly imitated by a group produced less stress hormone than those who are not imitated. Our bodies are adapted to seek and enjoy being mimicked. When humans are engaged in mimesis they learn from one another and advance the community’s skill set.

Physical cues to establish rapport are preverbal. We used them to bond before we even learned to speak—both as babies and as early humans many millennia ago. We flash our eyebrows when we want someone to pay attention to us. We pace in sync with someone else’s creating when we want them to know we empathize. When we see someone breathing with us, their eyes opening to accept us, their head subtly nodding we feel we re being understood and accepted. Our mirror neurons activate, releasing oxytocin, the bonding hormone, into our bloodstream.

The development of group sharing distinguished true humans from other hominids. We waited to eat until we took the bounty back home. Humans were defined not so much by our superior hunting ability as by our capacity to communicate, trust, and share. Early humans had a strong disposition to cooperate with one another, at great personal cost, even where there could be no expectation of payback in the future. Members of a group who violated the norms of cooperation were punished. Solidarity and community were prized in their own right.

Rushkoff concluded this section as follows: “Mental health has been defined as ‘the capacity both for autonomous expansion and for homonymous integration with others.’ That means that our actions are governed from within, but directed toward harmonious interaction with the world. We may be driven internally, but all this activity is happening in relationship with out greater social environment. We can only express our autonomy in relationship to other people.

To have autonomy without interdependency leads to isolation or narcissism. To have interdependency with no autonomy stunts our psychological growth. Healthy people live in social groups that have learned to balance or, better, marry these two imperatives.”

TEAM HUMAN

June 11, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a new book by Douglas Rushkoff. Reading books like this promotes the development and maintenance of a healthy memory. Learning new ideas establishes new neural connections. Reading critically activates yet more neural connections, and it is these new neural connections that foster a healthy memory. So readers need to go beyond fast System 1 processes, and invoke, and invoke heavily, System 2 processes. Even if you disagree when invoking System 2 processes, do not disengage. You should find it beneficial to continue reading posts on this book.

In preparing for competitive debates, a good practice is to debate both sides of the topic. This is important competitively, so one will be better at countering opposition points. Similarly, in reading it is important to understand as many sides of an issue that are tenable. Usually, there are at least a few points that one can regard as worthwhile. But even if one is in agreement with the author, there should usually be at least a few points of disagreement. And integrating all this information enhances one’s intelligence and knowledge as well as fostering a healthy memory.

Some authors are ponderous making for laborious reading. Fortunately, Rushkoff is not one of those authors. He makes his points quickly and crisply. For this reason, HM recommends you read the actual book. HM will try his best to bring the key content forward in this series of blogs.

The first section is titled TEAM HUMAN and begins, “Autonomous technologies, runaway markets, and weaponized media seem to have overturned civil society, paralyzing our ability to think constructively, connect meaningfully, or act purposefully. It feels as if civilization itself were on the brink, and that we lack the collective will-power and coordination necessary to address issues of vital importance to the very survival of our species. It doesn’t have to be this way way.”

He argues that there’s a reason for our current predicament, and that is an antihuman agenda embedded in our technology, our markets, and our major cultural institutions, from education and religion to civics and media. He argues that it has turned them from forces for human connection and expression into ones of isolation and repression. He believes by exposing this agenda, we make ourselves capable of transcending its paralyzing effect, reconnect to one another, and remake society towards human ends rather than the end of humans.

He writes that the first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport (hence the book’s title). “We cannot be fully human alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our individual or collective will.

Social connections are needed to orient ourselves, to ensure each other’s survival, and to derive meaning and purpose. Although we sometimes connect with one another in order to achieve some common goal, we also commune and communicate for their own sake because we gain strength, pleasure and purpose as we develop rapport.

We extend our natural ability to connect through various forms of media. The internet connects us more deliberately and, in some ways, more reassuringly than any medium before it. The tyranny of top-down broadcast media once seemed to be broken by the peer-to-peer connections and free expression of every human node on the network, The net turned media back into a collective, participatory, and social landscape.

But as usually happens with each and every new medium, the net went from being a
social platform to an isolating one. Instead of forging new relationships between people, our digital technologies came to replace them with something else. He writes, “Our most advanced technologies are not enhancing our connectivity, but thwarting it. They’re replacing and devaluing our humanity, and—in many different ways—undermining our respect for one another and ourselves. Sadly this has been by design. But that’s also why it can be reversed.”

Digital networks are the latest media to go from promoting social bonds to destroying them. They are supplanting rather than supporting humanity. Rushkoff fears that this current shift may be more profound and permanent because this time we are empowering our antihuman technologies with the ability to retool themselves. Our smart devices iterate and evolve faster than our biology can.

Rushkoff argues that we are tying our markets and security to the continued growth and expanding capabilities of our machines, but that this is self-defeating. These technologies are built with the presumption of human inferiority and expendabilty.

He concludes this section, “It’s time we reassert the human agenda. And we must do so together—not as individual players we have been led to imagine ourselves to be, but as the team we actually are. Team Human.”

Disaffections with Society are Not New

June 10, 2019

This post is based on content taken from “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny O’Dell. She makes the point that disaffections with society are not new. In fourth century Athens and Later Corinth, there lived the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope. He is best known as “the man who lived in a tub,” scorning all material possessions except for a stick and a ragged cloak. He is famous for roaming the city streets with a lantern, looking for an honest man. In paintings, he is often shown with the lantern by his side sulklng inside a round terra-cotta tub while the life of the city goes on around him. There are other paintings of the time about when he dissed Alexander the Great, who had made it a point to visit him. When Alexander found Diogenes lazing in the sun, he expressed his admiration and asked if there was anything Diogenes needed? Diogenes replies, “Yes, stand out of my light.”

Plato designated Diogenes as “Socrates gone mad.” While he was in Athens, Diogenes had come under the influence of Antisthenes, a disciple of Socrates. So Diogenes was heir to a development in Greek thought that prized the capacity for individual reason over the hypocrisy of traditions and customs, even and especially if they were commonplace.

Ms. O’Dell notes that of the differences between Socrates and Diogenes was that, while Socrates famously favored conversation, Diogenes practiced something closer to performance art. He lived his conviction out in the open and went to great lengths to shock people out of their habitual stupor, using a form of philosophy that was almost slapstick. She writes, “Diogenes thought every “sane” person in the world was actually insane for heeding any of the customs upholding a world full of greed, corruption, and ignorance. Exhibiting something like an aesthetics of reversal, he would walk backward down the street and enter a theater only when people were leaving. Asked how he wanted to be buried, he answered: ‘Upside down. For soon down will be up.’ In the meantime, he would roll over hot sand in the summer, and hug huge statues covered with snow in the winter. Suspicious of abstractions and education that prepared young people for carers in a diseased world rather than showing them how to live a good life. He was once seen gluing the pages of a book together for an entire afternoon. While many philosophers were ascetic, Diogenes made a show even of that. Once, seeing a child drinking from his hands, Diogenes threw away his cup and said, ‘A child had beaten me in plainness of living.’ Another time he loudly admired a mouse for its economy of living.

Moving on from Diogenes, Ms. O’Dell writes, “besides showing us a possible way out of a bind, the process of training one’s attention has something else to recommend it. If it’s attention (deciding what to pay attention to) that makes our reality, regaining control of it can also mean the discovery of new worlds and new ways of moving through them. As I’ll show in the next chapter, this process enriches not only our capacity to resist, but even more simply,our access to the one life we are given. It can open doors where we didn’t see any, creating landscapes in new dimensions that we can eventually inhabit with others. In so doing, we not only remake the world but also remake ourselves.

To learn more about Ms. O’Dell’s ideas read her book. But she overlooks the best way of training one’s attention in which we not only remake the world but ourselves remade. And that method is meditation and the different varieties of meditation. Enter “meditation” in the search block of the healthy memory blog at
healthymemory.wordpress.com

The Incel Problem

June 9, 2019

HM must confess to being asleep at the wheel. Although previous posts have written about the new technology resulting in about 1 in 3 18-to-34 year old American men being unemployed, and living at home, essentially divorced from society. HM learned learned reading Christine Emba’s column, “Men are in trouble, ‘Incels’ are proof” in the 8 June 2019 issue of the Washington Post that “incel” is short for “involuntarily celibate.” These are young men who have come to define themselves by their inability to find a sexual or romantic partner. Unfortunately, men who identify themselves as being #ForeverAlone have gathered online in forums such as Reddit to trade their stories of woe.

These communities are self-reinforcing. Members believe the their looks or personal traits have consigned them to lifelong loneliness, and similarly downbeat peers are always willing to add more fuel to that fire. They have gone on to develop elaborate, and elaborately misogynistic theories to blame others for their plight. These theories are centered on the idea that women are shallow, stupid and cruel—exclusively choosing only a handful of the most attractive men to be with and disdaining the rest. All men should deserve a chance with women, the incels tell themselves, but some men have all the luck, while they get left out. If there were a competition for self-fulfilling prophecies, this one would likely win.

Ms. Emba writes, “…the incel subculturing has become not just self-reinforcing but self-radicalizing, often with tragic outcomes. At its most horrifying extremes, the self-described incels have taken their anger out on the women they believe are refusing them. At least two mass shootings have left behind manifestos identifying themselves as adhering to incel ideology and explaining their actions as taking revenge on the world that hasn’t given them the women they think they deserve. It is clear that these incels are on a doomed quest that, at best will lead to miserable lives, and, at worst, will lead to imprisonment or death.

One of the unfortunate results of technology is that human connection in the real world has become rarer, and often feels more difficult than it used to be. Smartphones and gaming have been replacing face-to-face interactions that might force one to confront one’s social difficulties or develop a better understanding of the lives of others.

Incels need to understand that failure and rejection are necessary components of living, and that resilience needs to be developed to successfully cope with life. Interventions need to be developed to confront these individuals with the need to change to a life of interacting face-to-face with fellow humans and to dealing with failure and rejection with resilience. Until an incel realizes the need to change, improvement in his condition is extremely unlikely to occur.

However, once he realizes the need to change, technology could be helpful. Discussion groups could provide advice on how to change and would provide further guidance on the need to change. Such groups could benefit from technology by being self-reinforcing and group reinforcing.

Reasons to Build a Healthy Hippocampus

June 8, 2019

This post is inspired by an article by M.R. O’Connor in the 6 June 2019 issue of the Washington Post titled, “Here’s what gets lost when we rely on GPS.” The article cites a study published in Nature Communications in 2017 where researchers asked participants to navigate a virtual simulation of London’s Soho neighborhood and monitored their brain activity, specifically the hippocampus, which, as health memory blog readers know, is integral to spatial navigation. Amir-Honayoun Javadi, one of the study’s authors said, “The hippocampus makes an internal map of the environment and this map becomes active when you are engaged in navigating and not using GPS.”

The hippocampus is highly important. It allows us to orient in space and know where we are by creating cognitive maps. It allows us to both store and retrieve personal memories of experience. Neuroscientists believe the hippocampus believes give us the ability to imagine the future. Again this is something healthy memory blog readers should know and one of the principle purposes of memory is for time travel so we can travel back in time to review our past, so we can think of possible actions we can take in the future.

Research has long shown that the hippocampus changes as a function of learning. Again healthy memory blog readers should remember the study of London taxi drivers who have greater gray-matter volume in the hippocampus due to memorizing the city’s labyrinthine streets. Atrophy in the hippocampus is linked to devastating conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Stress and depression dampen neurogenesis—the growth of new neurons —in the hippocampal circuit.

Javadi said the conclusions he draws from recent research is that “when people use tools such as GPS, they tend to engage less with navigation. Therefore, brain area responsible for navigation is less used, and consequently their brain areas involved in navigation tend to shrink”

Neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot has found that using spatial-memory strategies for navigation correlates with increased gray matter in the hippocampus at any age. She thinks that interventions focused on improving spatial memory by exercising the hippocampus—paying attention to the spatial relationships of places in our environment—might help offset age-related cognitive impairments or even neurodegenerative diseases.

She continues, “If we are paying attention to our environments, we re stimulating our hippocampus, and a bigger hippocampus seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease. When we get lost , it activates the hippocampus, it gets us completely out of the habit mode. Getting lost is good.” It can be a good thing if done safely.

M.R. O’Connor writes, “Saturated with devices, children today might grow up to see navigation from memory or a paper map as anachronistic as rote memorization or typewriting. But for them especially, independent navigation and the freedom to explore are vital to acquiring spatial knowledge that may improve hippocampal function. Turning off the GPS and teaching them navigational skills could have enormous cognitive benefits later in life.”

M.R. O’Connor concludes the article, “Over the past four years, I’ve spoken with master navigators from different cultures who show me that performing navigation is a powerful form of engagement with the environment that can inspire a greater sense of stewardship. Finding our way on our own—using perception, empirical observation and problem solving skills—forces us to attune ourselves to the outside world. And by turning our attention to the physical landscape that sustains and connects us, we can nourish “topophilia,” a sense of attachment and love for space. You’ll never get that from waiting for a satellite to tell you how to find a shortcut.”

Amazing Crows

June 7, 2019

This post is based on content taken from “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny O’Dell. Appreciating nature and learning about our fellow creatures is important to a healthy memory.

Crows are amazing indeed. They’re highly intelligent and can recognize and remember human faces. They have been documented making and using tools in the wild. They teach their children to distinguish between “good” and “bad” humans. Good humans are those who feed them and bad humans are those who try to catch them or otherwise displease them. They can hold grudges for years.

Jenny O’Dell started leaving a few peanuts out on the balcony of her apartment. For a long time the peanuts remained undisturbed. Occasionally one peanut would be missing. Then a couple of times she saw a crow come by and swipe a peanut, but the crow would quickly fly away. After a while the crows began hanging out on a nearby telephone wire. One crow started coming every day around the time that Ms. O’Dell was eating breakfast, would sit exactly where she could see it from the kitchen table, and it would caw to make her come out on the balcony with a peanut. One day this crow brought its kid, which she knew was his kid because the big one would groom the smaller one and because the smaller one had an undeveloped, chicken-like squawk. She named them Crow and Crowson.

She soon discovered that Crow and Crowson preferred it when she threw peanuts off the balcony so they could do fancy dives off the telephone line. They’d do twists, barrel, rolls, and loops, which she made slow-motion videos of with the obsessiveness of a proud parent. Sometimes, they wouldn’t want any more peanuts and would just sit there and stare at her.

This is a very interesting story of how Crows managed to develop a relationship with a human, and train her to do what they wanted to foster their recreational activities.

Pet Peeves

June 6, 2019

An award winning professor made a statement that aggravated some HM pet peeves. HM will not mention the name of this professor, only his offending statement. He said that only humans can experience mental time travel.

Past HM posts have explained that the primary function of memory is time travel. We use our memory to travel back in time to see what is known that can be used in future situations. We do this all the time such that we are unaware that we are engaging in time travel. And this is the role of consciousness. Consciousness is not some unneeded epiphenomenon. It provides the essential means for reviewing the past so that we can succeed in the future.

Humans are not the only creatures who need to review their past to plan for and deal with the future. A very large number of animal species do the same. They need to do this to survive by avoiding predators, finding food and water and finding or building shelters. So non human-species have consciousness and engage in time travel.

Unfortunately, not just this distinguished scientist, but many human beings seem to have an inferiority complex regarding homo sapiens. Esteemed primatologist Franz de Waal says that these people are in “anthropodenial,” blindness to the humanlike characteristics of other species. He says, “those who are in anthropodenial try to build a brick wall to separate humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.” Every time non-human species do something that these people think that only humans should be capable of, they take the defense and argue that well these other species are not doing this. HM, Franz de Wall, and many others, think that this failure to believe is due to some inferiority complex these humans have about our species. HM had a professor who also thought that these arguments were ridiculous. So at a conference he said that he had video of a chimpanzee who, after he had defecated, grabbed a leaf and wiped his keister. When many in the audience, not realizing this was a joke, started writing this down he had to tell them that it was a joke as they were writing rather than laughing.

Fortunately, many other scientists are not so obdurate. Here is the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness:

It begins as follows:

“On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”

The declaration concludes:

“The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

POLITIFACT

June 5, 2019

The problem of misinformation is acute and currently the best means of addressing this misinformation is POLITIFACT politifact.com. POLITIFACT is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. It is said that all politicians lie, and that is the truth. It is also likely that practically all humans lie. What one discovers in POLITIFACT is that all politicians also tell the truth, if only rarely. Moreover, there is not a strict dichotomy between true and false. Rather, there are shades of truth and false. That is why POLITIFACT uses a Truth-O-Meter that ranges as follows:

True
Mostly True
Half True
Mostly False
False
Pants-on-Fire, which is a rating that means the item is flamingly false.

You can look for specific issues and see a score card (the breakdown of the ratings) and see a sampling of the individual ratings by prominent individuals along with their statements. HM found this feature to be especially useful.

Each of these ratings is justified with a prose passage explaining the justification for the rating. So one doesn’t need to accept the rating. But the justification should be read to understand the basis for the rating.

One can access different editions. There is a national edition, a punditfact edition, which addresses various pundits, health check edition, which addresses health topics. There is a Facebook-Hoaxes edition, which is especially needed. There are editions specific to states, but no all states are available yet.

Certain individuals merit special editions. Visit the website to see who they are.
There is a Promises heading that has a Trump-o-meter and an Obameter.

There is also a Pants-on-Fire Heading that allows you to examine the most egregious lies.

It’s highly recommend to visit this website on a regular basis and spend as little or as much time as you want.

The problem of misinformation is chronic and POLITIFACT provides the best mean of dealing with this misinformation.

31st Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science pt.3

June 4, 2019

There was a session titled Mental Time Travel and Psychological Well-Being chaired by Edward P. Lemay and Nadya Teneva. The healthy memory blog has explained that one of the principal functions of memory is that it enables us to travel back in time to help us decide how to act in the future. Nora Krott gave a presentation on reviewing memories of actions gone wrong using counterfactual thought. Counterfactual thought entails thinking what if I had done something else, what would the ramifications have been. Counterfactual thought can suggest a number of responses that could have led to a more fruitful outcome. Counterfactual thinking can not only be helpful in preparing for the future, it can also assist in repairing the past. Understanding why someone has been offended can suggest ways of returning and repairing the damage that had been done to that person. We can also use mental time travel to simulate novel future experiences, evaluate them, avoid pitfalls and have more successful future experiences.

There was a presentation by Helen G. Jing titled “Not to Worry: Episodic Retrieval Enhances Psychological Well-Being in Older Adults. As we age there is a tendency for our retrieval of episodic memories, which are memories of our specific experiences, to be retrieved with less detail. Dr. Jing introduced a technique termed episodic specificity induction (ESI) which increases the number of details about an event or an episode that is being recalled. This technique not only increases memory recall, but it also boosts the effectiveness of problem solving.

Lisa k. Fazio organized a session titled Solving the Problem of Misinformation: A Multidisciplinary Approach. It turns out that is an extremely difficult problem. Although Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition seems to be the easiest way to understand the problem, Kahneman was not mentioned at this session. A concise summary of Kahneman’s view follows.

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

One of the problems with misinformation is knowledge neglect. Here is an example. When research participants are asked whether the following statements are true or false.

Moses built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Noah built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Nixon built the ark and loaded animals two by two to save them from the flood.

Obviously only the Noah statement is true, but many responded positively to Moses. Fortunately very few responded to Nixon. Those who responded positively to Moses knew the correct answer, but it took too much effort to extract it from memory to answer correctly. In other words they were using System 1 processing. Had they actually expended the mental effort and used System 2 processes they would have gotten the answer correct.

This is how misinformation spreads and why it is so difficult to correct. This is why Goebbels advocated the big lie, and the bigger the better, and constant repetition of the lie. It requires much less cognitive effort to accept the lie than to reject it.

Another part of the misinformation problem regards which sources to believe. There is a good resource to address this need and that resource will be discussed in the subsequent blog post.

31st Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science Pt. 2

June 3, 2019

A definite highlight of the meeting was lecture by Lynn Nadel titled, Taking James Seriously: The Implications of Multiple Memory Systems. The James referred to in the title is William James, the father of American Psychology. James wrote about multiple memory systems, a primary and a secondary memory, which today are referred to as short term and long term memory. He made a distinction between habits and memory.

James passed away long before the emergence of neuroscience. The hippocampus plays an important role in the processing of memories. There was a famous epileptic patient referred to as HM who had large portions of his temporal lobes removed. A hippocampus is located in each one of those lobes. Although his previous memories remained intact, not only each new day, but each new hour was a new experience for HM. And these experiences would not be remembered.

There is a distinction between episodic memory, which holds the memories of our daily experiences is processed in the hippocampus, and semantic memory, which holds our general knowledge of the world, is resident in our neocortex.

The hippocampus is also critical to navigation. The neuroscientist O’Keefe identified place cells in the hippocampus. These place cells identify spatial locations where the organism travels. Learning to navigate entails strengthening these place cells and learning to follow them to desired locations.

In most species, the hippocampus matures postnatally. This has important consequences for memory and cognitive development. Dr. Nadel asks what does it mean to start life with a developing, but not yet functioning hippocampus, perhaps uniquely susceptible to impacts of experience early in life. In humans it takes 18-24 months for the hippocampus to emerge, and it takes 10-12 years for it to become fully functional.

Dr. Nadel speculates that phobias can develop before the hippocampus emerges. This late emergence of the hippocampus explains infantile amnesia and delayed exploration and place learning. Everything we learn very early in life is context free. The individual has no understanding of why she has certain fears, as the cause of the fear was not stored in memory. As for the 10-12 years for the hippocampus, an extremely important structure, to become fully functional, it might result in shortcomings in learning and interpersonal interactions.

31st Annual Meeting of the Association for Psychological Science

June 2, 2019

HM has attended several of these meetings. In addition to the 31st, HM attended the very first meeting and made a poster presentation, Computer Aids for Vision and Employment (CAVE). A series of posts will do what will be, at best, a cursory summary of presentations that HM attended.

The first presentation he attended was by Daniel T. Gilbert titled Prisoners of Now. Our ability to imagine the future—what will happen and how we will feel about it- is susceptible of error. The most potent source of error is our tendency to imagine the future through the lens of the present, which leads us to misunderstand ourselves and others in the future. So when we arrive at this imagined point in the future our experiences will have changed us so that what we experience in the future is different than expected. His claim is based on data. When the future objective is to achieve a certain goal, such as gaining entrance to a prestigious college, winning tenure at a prestigious university, or having a prestigious and important job, the failure to achieve these objectives is nowhere near as disastrous as anticipated. The future turns out to be different, it may also be more beneficent than imagined, so a fulfilling career, an enjoyable marriage are achieved. And it is also possible that achieving one’s desired goals are not as fulfilling as imagined. The work can be demanding and not as rewarding as imagined or the marriage might have ended in an unpleasant divorce. So it is always good to work for future goals, but it is not wise to fear the failure to achieve these goals. Although it is not guaranteed, one should feel that it is fairly likely to achieve at least a modicum of happiness. Of course, this assumes that alcohol and controlled substances are not abused, and that the law is not broken.

There was another session titled Increasing STEM Thinking in the Real World organized by Caroline Marano and Roberta M. Golinkoff. As readers of the healthy memory blog should know STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, and that these disciplines are regarded as needed for both the country and the economy. It should also be appreciated that psychology is regarded as a STEM discipline. This symposium examined how STEM can be developed in everyday environments, exploring how parents and educators can bolster learning for all children.

So there was a presentation on spatial thinking and how to enhance it as spatial thinking is an important component of STEM. There was another presentation on how preschoolers and parents can explore math broadly. There was a presentation on what was called the Urban Thinkscape, which designed parks to encourage thinking in the STEM area. And a presentation on a Children’s Museum called Parkopolis which raises STEM thinking.

These presentations were encouraging, but HM is also concerned about STEM thinking in adults. All responsible adults and citizens need to develop their understanding of STEM disciplines, and an especially important one is statistical thinking. They need to apply this thinking to the health of their families and to use as guidance in selecting political leaders.

A session titled Emerging Concepts of Effort: Resources, Resourced Perceptions, and Subjective Experience was organized by Nicolas Silvestri. Mental effort or energy, if you will, is required for many processes. One presentation was titled fatigue influence on inhibitory control. When we’re tired we have less energy for inhibitory control. So when we’re tired we need to be especially careful to say or do something that we might later regret. Moreover, individuals have different beliefs regarding willpower. Some regard willpower as being virtually unlimited. Others regard willpower as a resource that must be carefully guarded. In reality willpower is limited. That’s why the healthy memory blog has recommended taking this into consideration when making New Year’s resolutions. Making too many resolutions or extremely difficult resolutions can increase, if not guarantee, failure. That is why the healthy memory blog recommends making no more than 2 resolutions, one of which can be regarded as likely to achieve, and the other, which can be regarded as stretch, that might be achieved.